Kauto Star may be an irresistible force, but a deep layer of snow certainly represented a fairly immovable object at the beginning of a week that is supposed to end with his historic quest for a fifth consecutive success in the William Hill King George VI Chase. Barney Clifford, clerk of the course at Kempton, had to cancel the Flat meeting scheduled for his all-weather circuit yesterday, and four inches of snow are lying over the frost blankets on the adjacent jumps track. Even so, he was not sounding too downbeat at this stage, pinning his hopes on forecasts of somewhat milder weather in time for Boxing Day.
"Thank God we could deploy the frost covers when we did, with no frost in the ground," he said. "A few years ago, we'd have had no chance. We might be knocking it on the head already. But [forecaster] John Kettley reckons we'll be up to plus four on Boxing Day, and if we could get that on Christmas Day we'd have a great chance. At this stage, of course, I'd be worried about what I'm looking at. But time is on our side. And the great thing is that the snow is keeping the track insulated."
Should the thaw prove slow, Clifford would be similarly guarded in his optimism about getting snow off the blankets. "You could move the heaviest of it," he said. "But we've never had this volume to deal with, and you could only do a certain amount."
The rest of the week's jumping has already been lost, bar Sedgefield tomorrow, where an inspection this morning was preceded by little optimism. Even the one surviving all-weather card in Britain today, at Wolverhampton, is menaced by severe temperatures. Much the most positive bulletin came from Leopardstown, where Irish trainers will be desperate to make up for lost time at the four-day Christmas meeting. At present there is only a dusting of snow and the going is soft.
That will be welcome news to Willie Mullins, whose stunning treble at Fairyhouse last Wednesday showed that his string has evidently not been held up during the freeze. Yesterday he made the intriguing suggestion that Mikael d'Haguenet, mercifully unscathed by his last-fence fall on the same card, would be given an entry in the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup. "He'll be entered in everything at Cheltenham," the trainer explained. "We've never been worried about him staying. He's one of those horses that can change gear and go with faster horses as well. He appears to have retained his ability, and that's a huge question he answered the other day."
Yet to win a novice chase, Mikael d'Haguenet obviously has a long way to go before the Gold Cup could be seriously entertained. Having been so patient, however, connections may be tempted to strike while the iron is hot, should he build on the promise of his comeback from an absence of nearly 600 days. Not that they even know his next target. He does have options over various trips at Leopardstown, but Mullins remains wary of the possibility that he may need a longer interval between races.
Baraconti (3.35 Wolverhampton) Stable is out of form but worth chancing at decent odds after showing a little more on his last two starts. Down the weights and tried in cheekpieces.
Hierarch (5.35 Wolverhampton) Gave a few hints of potential during his days with a bigger yard and there have been further glimpses of ability since being claimed.
One to watch
Maurisca (C E Longsdon) confirmed himself a progressive type returned to fences at Exeter last week, able to shrug off a blunder when finishing third behind a flourishing rival.
Where the money's going
Brampour, highly regarded by Paul Nicholls, is 12-1 from 14s with Hills for the Triumph Hurdle ahead of his scheduled debut over timber at Kempton after Christmas.